Prisoner suicides rise to record level in overcrowded jails

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A record number of inmates killed themselves in English jails last month, triggering concerns about the ill effects of the prison population rising so rapidly.

The Prison Reform Trust called for a reappraisal of penal policy after the Home Office reported that 14 men died in prison of self-inflicted injuries last month, the highest figure since systematic records started 20 years ago. The total number for 2004 now stands at 70.

This figure does not include 14-year-old Adam Rickwood, from Burnley, Lancashire, who died in a secure training centre in County Durham. He is thought to be the youngest person to die in custody in the UK.

There were 94 cases of prisoners taking their own lives last year, and a record 95 in 2002 - a 27 per cent increase on previous years - but rarely has the monthly death toll been in double figures.

Six of the 14 men who died in August - and a 15th man who took his life on 1 September - were awaiting sentence. Most of them died at local prisons - the overcrowded facilities which act as transit camps for prisoners awaiting court appearances which are at the sharp end of the rising inmate population. Their high turnover is making it difficult for staff to develop an understanding of which prisoners constitute a suicide risk, according to prison welfare campaigners.

One of the local prisons worst affected is Shrewsbury, in Shropshire, where two men - both from Stoke-on-Trent - were found hanging in their calls within a 24-hour period earlier this week, taking the year's total of self-inflicted deaths at the establishment to five. A Prison Reform Trust report has shown Shrewsbury to be the second most overcrowded prison in the country with 89.3 per cent of inmates doubling up in single cells. (The Government's target is 18 per cent.) At 6am on Tuesday, prison officers at Shrewsbury found Phillip Parvin, 40, hanging from a ligature made out of a sheet. He was awaiting sentence for theft offences.

By 9am the next day, Marc Keeling, 31, had been found in similar circumstances at the prison. A promising apprentice motor mechanic before he became addicted to heroin 13 years ago and turned to crime, Mr Keeling had already tried to hang himself in prison within the past two years. His family claims he had been overheard threatening to do so again and had tried to cut himself.

Mr Keeling's father, Neil, 48, said he had been assured that the suicide attempt "was all over Marc's paperwork". He said: "He deserved to be in prison - no arguments. But what more of a clue do you need to get a man on suicide watch than him trying to kill himself?"

It is possible that Mr Keeling's prison-history file had not reached Shrewsbury, since he was only arrested on Saturday.

ThePrison Reform Trust claims prisons cannot cope with a population that, by 1 August, had reached 75,146 in England and Wales - an increase of 1,235 in the past year.

15 DEATHS IN ONE MONTH

1 Sept: Mark Keeling, 31, remanded at Shrewsbury prison on burglary charge. Hanging

31 Aug: Phillip Parvin, 40, remanded at Shrewsbury on theft and handling charge. Hanging

28 Aug: Abdul Omar, 28, convicted, awaiting sentence at Wormwood Scrubs for theft and handling. Hanging

28 Aug: Stephen Woods, 23, convicted and awaiting sentence at Bullingdon, Oxfordshire, for burglary. Hanging

26 Aug: Richard Carter, 33, serving four years at Leeds for robbery. Hanging

26 Aug: Stephen Hush, 44, licence revokee serving life at Acklington, Northumberland, for violence against a person. Cutting

25 Aug: Benjamin Gibson, 19, convicted and awaiting sentence at Norwich for criminal damage. Hanging

23 Aug: Stephen Badaj, 39, serving five years six months at Dartmoor for theft and handling. Hanging

19 Aug: Lee Nottingham, 30, serving 94 days at Shrewsbury for theft and handling. Hanging

14 Aug: Robert Finch, 47, remanded at Exeter on murder charge. Hanging

12 Aug: Michael Briggs, 40, remanded at Leeds on murder charge. Self-strangulation

11 Aug: Brendan Flynn, 28, serving 20 years at Wakefield for attempted murder. Hanging

8 Aug: Jason Alldis, 33, serving two years three months at Elmley, Kent, for ABH. Self-strangulation

8 Aug: Jamie Leigh, 27, serving eight months at Birmingham for failure to surrender. Hanging

7 Aug: Jason Cressey, 29, serving life at Wormwood Scrubs for robbery. Hanging.